Yes, Paul Ryan, let’s talk about parental leave

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Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan says he’ll consider running for Speaker of the U.S. House, but only if there are guarantees he can still have time for his family. Too bad other American workers don’t have the option of being as blunt.

Ryan is a 45-year-old, married father of three children. He travels home nearly every weekend to be with his family.

“I cannot and will not give up my family time,” Ryan said this week, alluding to the often grueling fundraising schedule that is placed on those serving as speaker.

He also demanded that all facets of the party unify behind his candidacy, and provided a Friday deadline for caucus votes of support.

Members of the U.S. House were in session for 153 days in 2012, 128 days in 2010, 119 days in 2008 and 104 days in 2006, all election years. The session average is roughly 140 days per year.

U.S. Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) (L-R), Representative Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) and Representative Tom Price (R-GA) arrive for a House Republican caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol in Washington October 21, 2015. Republican right-wingers are not ready to back Ryan for speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, an Arizona lawmaker, who belongs to the hard-right caucus that helped drive the last speaker from office, said on Wednesday.
U.S. Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) (L-R), Representative Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) and Representative Tom Price (R-GA) arrive for a House Republican caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol in Washington October 21, 2015. Republican right-wingers are not ready to back Ryan for speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, an Arizona lawmaker, who belongs to the hard-right caucus that helped drive the last speaker from office, said on Wednesday. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

American workers with two weeks of vacation and federal holidays are in their workplaces about 240 days per year.

Most workers have five-day work weeks, but members of Congress (like state lawmakers) generally have a four-day week. So while most full-time workers clock 40 hours, members of the U.S. House average 28 hours each week.

It’s true that many elected officials hold constituent meetings or fundraisers when Congress is in recess, but also true that none are required to do so. And, with a taxpayer-funded base salary of $174,000 a year, each member of Congress takes home about $16,000 during their summer recesses.

Despite such perks, Ryan wants to spend even more time with his family. Who can really blame him? But given such statements, it isn’t unreasonable to hope Ryan will remember his own sentiment as he debates proposed legislative changes.

In 2009, for instance, Ryan voted against allowing federal employees to take four weeks of paid parental leave for the birth, adoption or placement of a child from foster care. More recently, during this year’s State of Union address, Ryan and other GOP leaders did not applaud when President Barack Obama told Congress to “send me a bill” requiring paid sick leave or paid maternity leave for all workers.

Out of the 185 countries and territories surveyed in 2014 by the International Labor Organization, only two — the U.S. and Papua New Guinea — do not offer paid maternity leave. Three states — California, New Jersey and Rhode Island — have paid parental leave policies, and some companies do voluntarily offer it, but it is difficult to know how many.

Under the 1993 Family and Medical Leave act, eligible workers are allowed to take up to 12 weeks off for illnesses or a new child and be assured they’ll still have a job when they return. But that time off is typically unpaid. Rep. John Boehner, an Ohio Republican vacating the Speaker’s job, opposed that bill, warning that the measure would be devastating for the country.

“America’s business owners are a resilient bunch, but let there be no doubt, H.R. 1 will be the demise of some. And as that occurs, the light of freedom will grow dimmer,” he said.

Dire predictions aside, parental leave is something every American parent, including Paul Ryan, deserves.

This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on October 18, 2015. Photo credit: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters